On Monday 7/6/2020, both Akron-AAUP and President Gary Miller posted position-papers regarding athletic spending. President Miller took issue with some of the numbers in our report, which we will respond to in a separate communication. At the same time, President Miller asserted that the university has been over-investing in academics. We find it curious that the administration has apparently not examined whether or not it has over-invested in athletics (to save them the trouble, we have).
Challenging the decreases cited by President Miller
President Miller stated that, from 2010 to 2019, enrollment decreased 34% while faculty numbers have only decreased 18%. He goes on to say that faculty numbers must therefore decrease in order to match the enrollment decline. However, trend data can be quite different depending on the years chosen as endpoints. Thus, here we will examine the data two different ways.
First, if we start with Fall 2000 (with total enrollment of 22,351) and go to Fall 2019 (with total enrollment of 19,218), the decrease in enrollment is 14%. For that same time period, the total number of full-time faculty went from 728 to 633, a decrease in full-time faculty of 13%.
Since Fall 2019, 49 bargaining unit faculty (BUF) retired or separated. Non-renewals for 25 Visiting Faculty have further decreased the total number of faculty. Finally, attrition (known to be 3 full-time faculty at this point) has also contributed to the decrease in full-time faculty who would start the Fall 2020 semester without any job eliminations by the university administration. A representation of the enrollment (headcount) and number of full-time faculty is provided in the figure below.
Next, we go further in removing any possibility of endpoint selection bias by examining university provided data with a range of 33 years. Within this analysis, full-time equivalent (FTE) values were used for students by using the standard practice of dividing the number of student credit hours (SCH) and dividing by 15 (representative of a full student set of SCH). The FTE values were then divided by the number of full-time faculty (FT faculty). All original data is currently available on the UA website or was available previously (circa 2016). This type of ratio is a way to provide an estimate of how many faculty are available to teach students. Indeed, several common rankings, including the U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges,” feature this type of ratio as an indicator of the quality of instruction.
As can be seen in the graph below, the student FTE to FT faculty ratio has varied over time, ranging from a low of 21.2:1 in 1999 to a high of 28.7:1 in 2011 (during the enrollment bubble), with an overall (weighted) mean of 24.6 for all 33 years of available data. The fall 2019 ratio is lower than average, but it is within one standard deviation of the average ratio. In fact, for 21 of the 33 years of data, the ratio is between +/- one standard deviation of the 24.6:1 average.
Finally, if we assume a 12% drop in SCH for Fall 2020 and use the currently known number of FT Faculty (less those who have recently provided notice of separation), the ratio of FTE to FT Faculty is still within one standard deviation from the mean of 24.6:1.
Is UA “over-investing” in academics?
Perhaps not surprisingly, this is a difficult question to answer as it depends on many factors, including the particular mix of student interests and faculty specializations. In the absence of an exact formula, there is a strong argument for using a data-driven model of its 33-year average FTE-to-FT faculty ratio of 24.6:1. Doing so would at least provide a data-based estimate.
Enrollment is projected to be down in the fall but again, all we have are estimates. Suppose that SCH’s decline by 10% from fall 2019, from 226,918 to 204,226. If UA kept the 24.6:1 ratio, it would have 553 FT faculty, a sizable decrease from 650 in fall 2019 — but a number that UA is fast approaching as a result of actions already taken (total FT faculty stands at 556 for fall currently). As noted previously, 49 faculty separated in May, at least 3 FT Faculty have given notice of their separation from the university before fall, and 25 FT Visiting Faculty have already been cut.
Given our historical FTE-FT Faculty ratios and where we stand right now, without ANY additional cuts in the number of full-time faculty, it appears to be quite a stretch to contend that UA is over-investing in academics.
Protecting our students
The American Council on Education (2018) discusses how instructional expenses — including the number of full-time faculty — are positively correlated with student outcomes. Thus, full-time faculty are important for student success.
In a time when graduation rate is a key component of state subvention, significantly decreasing the number of full-time faculty at The University of Akron seems financially irresponsible as well as ethically questionable.
We close by quoting Provost John Wiencek, from his remarks about the finalization of the FY21 budget at the July 8th, 2020 University Council meeting,
“…an important need to focus on revenue growth and think about what we are going to do in the next year.”
We could not agree more with Provost Wiencek on this point. The pandemic and financial crisis are temporary. Because faculty are the revenue-generators for the university, revenue growth must include a strong faculty in sufficient numbers.